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The Liverpool Roadrunners

Liverpool Roadrunners
Liverpool Roadrunners
As far as much of the Sixties music world was concerned, the Liverpool music scene was 'Merseybeat' and The Beatles while London was R&B and The Rolling Stones..... yes, there were many more centres, groups and musical genres than that but, just for a moment, let's take Liverpool and R&B..... put them together and what do you get? Many more fab groups which, although not represented by huge chart success, were incredibly popular locally and abroad and who were creating cutting edge music and a sound all of their own.

The cream of these were The Roadrunners, a group who featured regularly in Merseyside polls of favourite groups and who performed alongside The Rolling Stones, The Beatles in 'The Cavern Club' and also at the legendary 'Star Club' in Hamburg, Germany alongside many other Sixties legends such as The Tornados.
If you are at all interested in the Sixties music scene, the Roadrunners' website is an absolute must - not only to gain a better understanding and knowledge of the group itself, other great but little-known local acts of the Sixties Merseyside scene and to view some great images, but also to look through a window on the musical and social culture of the time.

There are a lot of personal reminiscences and stories, including interviews with legendary Sixties personalities such as Cavern DJ Bob Wooler, who sadly died in 2002. Click on the title or the images on the left (better copies appear on their site) to visit this musical goldmine.

By kind permission of original group drummer David Boyce, here are some entertaining and illuminating reminiscences and comments by him on the group, the scene and the greatest musical decade of all time.......

I'm David Boyce or, as I was known between August 1962 and August 1965, Dave Boyce. I was the drummer with the Roadrunners. I don't think it is insignificant that, of all the other erstwhile Roadrunners, now in our late 50s, the then Pete Mackey is now Peter and Dave Percy is David. John Peacock is still John, but he was never Johnny, Jonno or Jack. Mike Hart was the only Roadrunner to spend the whole of his working life as a musician but, in any case, in Roadrunner days he was always known as Henry. It may seem perverse to start this account of my involvement with the Roadrunners and the Rhythm & Blues scene in Liverpool in the early 60s with a discourse on the use of names. But it isn't. If one ignores the race and class divisions of pre-Beatles Britain one gets a distorted view of subsequent developments in popular music. The Roadrunners were white, middle-class, grammar school/college-educated boys who, like the Beatles, had been brought up "beneath the blue suburban skies". If you research the backgrounds of the founding members of most of the young, white, London-based R&B outfits, you'll find a very similar pattern which nearly always includes an Art School.

Pete Mackey (bass) was the President of the Students Union of the same Liverpool College of Art which had been attended a couple of years earlier by John Lennon. In 1962, when the Roadrunners were formed from the nucleus of a short-lived pop group called the Tenabeats, there was no white R&B scene in Liverpool in the sense that there was an emergent scene in London centred on the activities of the rather older jazz-blues guitarist Alexis Korner. There was, of course, a genuine black blues music scene emanating from the many small drinking clubs in the Upper Parliament Street area, but these were seldom if ever visited by the young music fans of any persuasion, and had little effect on the jazz, blues or pop music preferred by white youths, this being "stolen" from American recordings.

The New Orleans or "Trad" jazz which, before 1962, was the preferred listening of the majority of university of college students was, for the most part, dispensed by woolly-jumpered, white-bearded ex-students who displayed extreme prejudice towards anything which was electrically amplified and, therefore, "inauthentic". In those days, there was a definite divide between the music which middle and working class white youth was supposed to like.
Liverpool Roadrunners

Rock and Roll was for the workers and Jazz for the bourgeoisie on the grounds that it could be justified to one's elders because it could be studied and was therefore acceptable as a branch of musicology or even anthropology! This was, of course, nonsense, and most middle class youth liked Rock & Roll, particularly the original mid 50s stuff as provided by the likes of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino.

For a short period, the Roadrunners cornered the R&B market in Liverpool, as they were the only group playing the same sort of Chicago/Muddy Waters style copies as their metropolitan counterparts. Thus they became the band of first choice for University and College gigs as the beards and jumpers were swiftly replaced by something a bit more "a la mode". The band's spiritual home was the "Everyman Club" in the basement of the Everyman Cinema (now theatre) known as "Hope Hall". Four hundred yards from the Art School, and backing onto the university campus, the club was the hang-out of many local poets, painters and arty types, and so the Roadrunners became components of many diverse "events" arranged by Adrian Henri and based on Allan Kaprow's New York Happenings. Simultaneously, the Roadrunners had a parallel career as a quasi-pop group, appearing regularly at the Cavern and even taking over the Beatles' Tuesday night residency in the wake of their national success. The Roadrunners' repertoire reflected this double life.

A lot of the Chicago stuff was culled from the "Muddy Waters at Newport" l.p. plus some fairly rare singles by Bo Diddley (his "Roadrunner" provided the group's name), Little Walter, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf and Etta James. (It's worth remembering that original R&B recordings were all but unavailable in the UK except at a couple of specialist shops in London.) The Rock & Roll oriented stuff came from Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, although we tended to avoid the more obvious numbers like "Tutti Frutti", "Blueberry Hill" and "Sweet Little Sixteen", preferring non-hit but "Liverpool standards" like "Memphis Tennessee", "Jambalaya" and "Talkin 'Bout You". (Though we did cover "Long Tall Sally" and "Rip It Up"). There was one good excuse for this as our line-up, unlike most in those days, included a piano and saxophone. This also enabled us to give a more authentic feel to the odd Jerry Lee Lewis number that we included. In addition we did versions of a few Hank Williams, Carl Perkins and Elvis songs because of Pete's more eclectic musical taste. He liked Country & Western and Trad Jazz as well as the Blues.

Liverpool Roadrunners The Country & Western thing in Liverpool is quite interesting. If R&B started out being working class and jazz middle class, C&W occupied a curious middle ground because of the Irish connection. Since the middle of the 19th century, Liverpool had played host to a vast Irish immigrant population, both Catholic and Protestant. The Irish folk music which had been exported to the United States by the brothers, sisters and cousins of the Liverpool settlers metamorphosed into one strand of American country music, was electrified into country & western, and subsequently re-imported into Irish communities throughout Britain over a hundred years later. If you went into any Liverpool Irish pub in the late 50s, the songs of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline were being performed alongside the traditional jigs and reels. Pete Mackey came from an Irish Catholic background as, indeed, did Paul McCartney. Because of the "folk" connection, country groups became acceptable as interval bands in jazz clubs like the "Mardi Gras" as they were for the most part acoustic and barely distinguishable from the "Trad" offshoot skiffle.

The most successful of these groups was the Blue Genes who re-invented themselves several times before becoming the Merseybeat group the Swinging Blue Jeans as a direct copy of the Beatles. The Blue Genes in their first incarnation became resident at the Mardi Gras and subsequently the Cavern jazz club (as it was then), and it was they who first got the Beatles in on one of their guest nights. The Mardi Gras never did let full-blown rock groups in, but the Roadrunners did become regulars there and at its sister club the Downbeat because of our tenuous jazz/art connections.. We were, in fact, the first electric band of any kind to play the Downbeat which, until then, had specialised in a rather more rarefied "modern" and "mainstream" type of jazz. It must seem odd to the present day music fan, where fusion, cross-over and World music is the norm, to conceive of a time when support for a particular musical style could be as partisan as today's support of a football team. Although the Roadrunners did nail their colours to the R&B mast, in reality our performances reflected the diverse tastes of the constituent members.

I liked the Dutch Swing College Band, Louis Jordan's Tympani Five and Little Richard's backing band the Upsetters and when I listen to the few 37-year-old Roadrunner tracks which escaped, I can hear my youthful attempts at emulation, especially on "Mojo". I can also hear my Army Cadet Band training on Beautiful Delilah! As for the others, they must speak for themselves, but I'm sure I can hear a trace of English folk music in Dave's guitar plucking solos and Johnny Phillips, our one-time American tenor sax player, can't disguise the modern jazz, Berkeley School of Music, influence in his solo on "Mojo" and flute work on "Cry, Cry, Cry".

It was the superior musicianship of this seventeen year old from South Carolina which gave the second incarnation of the Roadrunners its much tighter and more arranged feel. Before I met Johnny, I didn't know what a syncopated triplet was! There are several on "Have you ever had the blues?" which Johnny sings as well as providing the trumpet solo with its amazing final high note.

After our first visit to Hamburg in 1963/4, Henry insisted on changing the line-up and expanding the repertoire as a direct result of playing nightly alongside the horn-based Glasgow band the Bobby Patrick Big Six. By early to mid 1964, loads of groups were jumping on the R&B bandwagon, so we had to move on. Despite appearing at the "First British R&B Festival" in Birmingham in February (alongside Sonny Boy Williamson, the Yardbirds, Long John Baldry and the Spencer Davis Group with Steve Winwood) Henry felt that wailing harmonicas were becoming a cliche. After Johnny Phillips came along, we were on the lookout for a second sax player, whom we found at a party after a gig in Oxford. He was Nick Carver (sometimes known as Nick la Grec). This allowed us to have a go at more sophisticated arrangements of material by people like Bobby Bland, James Brown, Ray Charles and BB King. At one point we even included a version of Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" and, influenced by Nick's love of be-bop, the Thelonius Monk classic "Blue Monk. If there's a recording of either of those out there, I'd love to hear it!

Speaking of lost recordings, the Roadrunners had a very peculiar and almost non-existent recording career. Details of the two Star Club albums and the Pantomania e.p. have been documented elsewhere and there are certainly some unreleased tracks from these sessions kicking around somewhere. I'm also sure that we did more than two tracks at the Birmingham R&B Festival, and I wonder if anybody has got copies of those? (The recording was made by promoter Georgio Gomelski unknown to us or anybody else on the bill, including Eric Clapton and Rod Stewart!) Other Roadrunners' tracks which may or may not still exist include the Decca audition tapes produced by Andrew Loog Oldham in 1963; two tracks recorded by Oriole Records at the Rialto Ballroom, Liverpool, which were considered unsuitable for their "This is Merseybeat" album; and the taped-as-live recording of the first Radio Luxembourg "Sunday Night at The Cavern" show.

At the time Mike Hart left the band in 1965, we were under contract to Philips/Fontana in London, where A&R man Jack Bauerstock had produced quite a few tracks, including at least one with Jimmy Page on lead guitar. None were released. So, come on you rarity freaks, how about a bit of sleuthing on behalf of arguably the best 60s Liverpool band that most people have never heard of?

That's me and my take on the Roadrunners. After leaving the band I went to drama school, became an actor and appeared in a lot of theatre, TV shows and films. I'm now semi-retired, still play a little music from time to time, especially with young musicians. For my own amusement I recently started work on a sampled re-mix of the January '64 live Hamburg recording of "Roadrunner" by laying down a second drum track. I've been wanting to do that for nearly 37 years!

Should you have any information on 'missing' recordings, David can be contacted at

Many thanks to David Percy, David Boyce and all the Roadrunners, not only for the information reproduced here and a great site, but for the music and memories.........
Also see: Bill Harry's Sixties - Mersey Groups and Artists of the Sixties

Copyright David Boyce and reproduced here by kind permission

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